History of K-Pop: Holland
Although his idol career only began earlier this year, Holland has already made history for being the K-Pop industry’s first openly gay idol. In an industry where idols often face pressure to fit into widely-accepted societal norms or risk facing scrutiny and even losing a career, Holland stepped outside of the box and challenged the industry’s standards from day one.
Holland debuted on January 22 with the release of “Neverland.” The heartfelt ballad was immediately met with widespread excitement from fans, and the hashtag “HollandDebutDay” trended worldwide on Twitter upon the music video’s release.
From his very first release, Holland didn’t shy away from expressing his sexuality—the music video shows him with a male love interest, and the lyrics talk about how he would like to escape to Neverland and live life in his own way, without fear of the future or of being ostracized by others.
In the video, he’s sometimes seen alone shrouded in blue and gray, and sometimes seen with his love interest in full view of the sun, laughing and happy, further illustrating the struggle he experiences between being in love with a boy and living in a world where it’s often difficult to do so. The video also shows him and the other boy holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes, and even includes a kiss scene between the two.
The video received a 19+ rating in South Korea, with many fans speculating that the inclusion of the same-sex kiss scene was deemed inappropriate for younger audiences. Nevertheless, Holland still achieved widespread fame, both for representing the LGBT+ community in the K-Pop industry and for his artistry. Billboard called the song a “mellow alt-R&B track” that “revels in queer love,” adding that the song racked up over 700,000 views within 24 hours of its release.
Holland continued to embrace the role of representing the LGBT+ community, often offering advice directly to LGBT+ fans and reassuring them. In an interview with SBS Pop Asia, Holland said that many of his LGBT+ fans are “intimidated and passive,” and that it makes him sad to see them that way.
“You don't need to be like that at all,” Holland said in the interview. “You have to build your self-esteem and believe in yourself. This self-confidence makes it easier for us to talk about this issue with others. Another thing to remember, is not to put yourself down."
Notably, Holland isn’t signed with an agency. In the same interview, Holland mentioned that he’s an independent artist, and as a result, isn’t very well-known in Korea. However, he set up an individual company to work with for future releases. Additionally, Holland said that he spent his own money on producing the song and video, using connections from art school to help him create a high-quality release on a low budget.
Normally, not being backed by a label and being part of a marginalized group with little representation in entertainment could be enough to discourage an artist from even trying to break into a major market; however, Holland’s self-enterprising nature allowed him to emerge onto the scene against the odds.
On June 26, Holland once again made headlines, this time for becoming a part of Dazed Magazine’s Dazed 100, a list of 100 individuals who are “shaping the future of youth culture.” Holland was pitted against Hollywood stars, models, and other musicians, but still emerged as the top influential person through the support of his fans.
Later in 2018, Holland made his first comeback with the release of two singles, “I’m Not Afraid” and “I’m So Afraid.” The first of the two songs, “I’m Not Afraid,” was released on July 5 and features an upbeat electronic-pop sound that feels worlds away from the somber tone of “Neverland.” While his first song was melancholic and introspective, “I’m Not Afraid” sounds joyful, with the video showing Holland at a party with his friends and boyfriend. In addition to Holland and the character of his boyfriend, multiple other couples can be seen in the video, including same-sex couples. Additionally, the partygoers are a diverse group, which includes people of different races and a drag queen.
The cheerful and relaxed atmosphere of the party seen in the video portrays Holland as someone who’s comfortable and happy in his surroundings and with the friendships he’s forged, further emphasizing that he isn’t afraid to be himself.
The second of the two singles, “I’m So Afraid,” was released on July 17. The video starts off with Holland alone in a forest, seemingly taking in the remnants of the party from the last video. The song sounds darker and more brooding than “I’m Not Afraid,” and in the video, Holland looks into a vignette of a city at nighttime and sees a woman standing there, much like he is—alone in what was formerly a bustling, lively place. The woman, who’s wearing the same shirt as Holland is, serves as a representation of Holland in a different sort of setting.
As she dances around the city at night, she seems to illustrate how Holland wishes he could behave—expressing himself more openly and freely, without fear of judgment. When she comes to a halt, with one hand over her eyes and the other raised in the air, the camera turns and Holland is seen in the same pose from the other side of the vignette. In an interview with Billboard, Holland added that the song “deals with the fear [he] had before [his] debut and coming out in general,” and that “it was also important to show the fear.”
It may seem contradictory for Holland to release this song right after one declaring that he’s no longer afraid of being judged. However, in doing so, Holland shows that coming out and accepting your sexuality and identity isn’t an automatic key to happiness, and that it can still be difficult to live without fearing how others will react. At the same time, while he continues to grapple with being judged, he can experience moments of vivid joy in environments where others love and respect him.
In August, Holland asked fans to submit suggestions for a fan club name. On August 21, he announced that his fans would be called “Harlings,” a portmanteau of “Holland” and “darling.”
On September 6, Holland announced a crowdfunding project for the production of a mini-album. His goal was to raise $50,000 by October 20; however, as of October 14, the campaign amassed $89,232, or 178% of its original goal. Hopefully, fans can anticipate the album’s release in the coming months!
2018 has shaped up to be an eventful year for Holland, but his career has the potential to reach even greater heights in the years ahead. His fiercely dedicated fanbase is incredibly vocal about how much his career means to them, and Holland seems just as touched by his fans’ love and support. In the future, we’ll hopefully see Holland continue to grow not only as an artist, but as a role model and advocate for marginalized people.
What do you hope to see from Holland in the future? Let us know in the comments below!